Chris Mc Loone
My wife and I have three kids: a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 10-year-old. To say that I have struggled with the question “Why?” through these 15 years would be understating the frustration involved trying to answer that one-word question.
And, every one of them has been different. My oldest will eventually relent, satisfied that I have explained as fully as I can why he can’t do something or why I am doing something. Our 12-year-old is a little more challenging. In some ways, he is almost looking for a fight. He doesn’t always want to know “why” but wants proof that something has to be done in a way that is not his way. Our 10-year-old seems satisfied with our answers but, at least with me, I think there might be a little bit of “I want to know why, but I don’t have time for Dad’s 20-minute explanation” going on—probably listening to the advice of his older brothers.
When you think about it though, that question is a constant throughout our lives: The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) wants to know why we need new apparatus; kids still want to know why; managers want to know why we need to use a vacation day; and we want to know why products or services are important for us.
For the past few years, I’ve been able to attend the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA)/Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association (FEMSA) Annual Fall Conference. It’s an opportunity for me to catch up with many of the vendor representatives I interact with during the year, and recent years’ conferences have featured a chief’s panel where chiefs from different parts of the country have an opportunity to answer questions from manufacturers and relate the challenges they face in their departments regarding fire apparatus and equipment. It was at this year’s chief’s panel where the question “Why?” came up again.
A question from the FAMA/FEMSA members asked how they should go about getting products into the fire service. The pervading answer was that chiefs, company officers, firefighters, engineers, etc. need to know why the product is important before they can bring a product into their department.
The buy-in has to come from several different places. It’s not only a chief needing to go to his AHJ to convince it to release the funds to make the equipment purchase. The chief often needs to sell his personnel on a product’s merits. As one chief on the panel stated, “Make sure we know the why.” The panel was discussing health and safety initiatives in members’ departments, so the products in mind were those that we’ve seen a lot of lately—those products and initiatives that help reduce exposure to contaminants on the fireground that can lead to cancer developing. Using the “Clean Cab Concept” as an example, that’s not just something a department can implement without providing a thorough explanation of why a chief or a purchasing committee has chosen to spec a rig using elements of this concept. The chief needs to know why the concept is important and how it can benefit his firefighters so he can explain it. Without firefighter buy-in, let’s be honest: You can have a whole side of the truck dedicated to self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) storage so the cab doesn’t become contaminated, but if there’s no buy-in from the rank and file, the SCBA will be piled up in the cab for the ride back to the firehouse, off-gassing all the way back.
Of course, much of this comes down to leadership. Chief Dave Downey of Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue discusses some of his department’s health and safety initiatives in this issue. His department is in the process of taking delivery of several “Clean Cab” rescue-pumpers. He says, “I’ve got to tell you—these new clean cab engines are going to be a big cultural change for our department that we’re going to have to work through. But, just like changing out the gear, I’m confident we can accomplish that.”
As officers and firefighters, we see a lot of products come down the pike. Some of them fade away quickly, and some are embraced and stand the test of time. As a parent, I love that my kids want to know why, but sometimes I cringe because I know that inevitable question is coming, and I hope I can answer it to their satisfaction. But, don’t be afraid to ask your apparatus or equipment dealer why you should be implementing a product it has introduced. You’re not being difficult, you’re getting all your ducks in a row because you know that same question is coming. The better you answer it, the easier it will be to effect change in your fire department.